Mike Beetham

Conflict or Bullying

  • Bullying or Conflict?

Bullying is a reality in schools, but misplaced reactions to the day-to-day conflicts that occur in life will also not serve to help our students become problem solvers. I have noticed in my classroom (and around the school hallways) that any situation that involves one student disagreeing with another is being referred to as bullying. I had to really reflect on how to handle this scenario to ensure that the right approach is being taken to benefit all. I searched out information I could use to help clarify the misconceptions that were being developed by my students and came across an amazing resource entitled ‘We All Belong – A Multimedia Toolkit For Parents and Schools’. It was developed by the Centre Ontarien De Prevention Des Agressions (COPA). It is a very comprehensive tool for schools, teachers, parent councils and families to use as they work to develop a culture of inclusiveness within their community.

This resource helped me frame a strategy on how to move my students forward in their thinking. The Bullying Prevention Guide in the kit clearly explained that conflict is a disagreement or difference of opinion between two parties who are relatively equal in social status and thus there are two sides to a story. Bullying is not a natural part of daily life and is a targeted and planned act by a person or group of people in a position of power or social status and is often carried out over a period of time. If a bullying scenario is dealt with using conflict resolution strategies I have added to the harm done by the bully because I have now forced the victim to spend more time face-to-face working it out and have concluded that he/she is part of the problem.

The kit is a very rich resource that includes a Bullying Prevention Guide, The Capsule Families Get Involved and a DVD of short entertaining vignettes to be used. There are two volumes to the DVD with one targeting Parent Engagement and the other Bullying Prevention. The versatility of the kit has made it an option that can help bring families and schools closer in their battle against bullying. I am currently spending more time familiarizing myself with the resource as there are other options on how I may use it.

COPA – 457 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K 1P1
(416) 466-8975 or infocopa.com

 

 

Building Skyscrapers

This year my Grade 6 students have demonstrated a deep interest in looking at a few social justice issues that they feel have a direct impact on their lives.  The most important issue has been bullying (at school, the home, and in society as a whole).  I have described how we have focused on exploring this issue in a previous blog where I explained how we, as a class, brought to light aspects of bullying including: what it is, why people do it, who it affects, how it affects them, and ways to deal with it in our classrooms, schools, and communities.

It came as no surprise to me that a group of my students (and a few Me to We Club members) decided to create an anti-bullying club in our school.  As the club members came together to discuss their purpose, the plan, and how each student would be involved, I sat back in awe at how big their hearts were and how creative their minds became as they began to put together an anti-bullying awareness video to both educate the students at the school and reassure them that the club was there to support them.  The whole process came to demonstrate what can be possible when a topic or issue is dissected through inquiry-based learning and students are given the opportunity to dive, head first, into an ocean of experiences that allow them to question, research, share ideas and opinions, look at different perspectives, decide where they stand on an issue, and how they plan to become involved.

After an intense few weeks, the group decided that they would like to first raise awareness through a video they would create.  They then decided that students needed to know who they were in order to seek them out for support outside at recess if they needed someone to talk to or play with.  They also realized that in most cases, the students involved in bullying behaviour (whether it be the bully, the victim, or the bystander) needed to become educated and so they would spend time with those students reading, talking, role-playing, etc. to help them learn about how their actions (or lack thereof) were impacting those involved.

The project is on-going and I couldn’t be more proud of what the students have accomplished so far.  They decided to name the anti-bulling club “We Build Skyscrapers” (the title comes from the Demi Lovato song “Skyscraper”).  The reasoning was that although skyscrapers can seem fragile and many are made of glass, they always stand tall and are built to withstand extreme conditions.  The analogy is that the Skyscrapers Club is there to help build up students to stand tall and proud of who they are by not being afraid and learning to overcome negative situations.  I thought it was brilliant and the school and parent community completely agreed.

If you’d like to see the “Skyscrapers” video, which I strongly recommend you do, follow the link below.

http://schoolweb.tdsb.on.ca/burrowshall/Students/MetoWeClub/WeBuildSkyscrapers.aspx

Social, Popular, Empathetic and Strong Leaders – Today’s Bullies?

Back in October, I read an article in the Globe and Mail by Anthony Volk entitled “Why Bullies Do What They Do.” In brief, it was a very succinct yet comprehensive synopsis of the causes and (proposed) solutions to bullying. At the time, something about it stuck with me and I came back to it when in need of something to blog about during the crazy month of December. Interestingly, there were distinct echoes of Carmen’s grade 6 Bullying Task Force around the ideas of choosing behaviours and belief systems. In identifying the main reasons for bullying, Volk reduces them to just three.
– to get resources (ex. lunch money)
– to get dating partners
– to get social power to be used in getting resources, dates or favours

 

As indicated by voluminous research, Volk describes the typical bully as someone who has “average or greater social skills, popularity, leadership, cognitive empathy and physical or mental health.” Upon reflecting about this statement, I vacillated between two contradictory trains of thought. On one hand, I found myself thinking that these were pretty basic goals for someone with a wide range of attributes and that given that, they would have been able to achieve social power through less basic means. On the other, I would have assumed (or rather hoped) that above average social skills and cognitive empathy would have prevented bullying in the first place.

 

Perhaps what struck me most about the article and the most recent publicised cases of bullying was something I took for granted but hadn’t really consciously considered. It would seem that the classic profiles of bully and victim are blurred and that the anonymity of social media has emboldened and perhaps intensified cases of bullying. The root of it would seem to be the need to exercise power (even in the most basic ways) over someone else. Some people would argue that such a need is innate and an undeniable part of human nature and as such, bullying is much more difficult to tackle in a lasting, meaningful way.

A Response to “Talking and Listening Chairs” – Les tête-à-tête sont une nécessité

Having read Sangeeta’s blog about how ongoing conflicts can sometimes hijack your teaching agenda, I was struck with her concept of the “Talking and Listening Chairs”. From my own experience, I know that students seem to run into MANY misunderstandings and oftentimes lack both the forum and the verbal skills necessary to successfully solve their conflicts. Quite frankly, I think her idea is brilliant and the guidelines surrounding their use are thoughtfully considered. She has clearly established boundaries and parameters that would ensure success. With obviously less disruptions for the teacher, the real beneficiaries are the students themselves. Actually having a chance to air their grievances can help diffuse and prevent an emotional conflict from escalating into something more serious and simultaneously allows students to take ownership for solving their own problems. Finally, the end result would be to forge a stronger, deeper rapport between the children and a positive classroom atmosphere. Wow, all that from two chairs! Personally, I’m going to have to think a little more how I could implement this idea as a rotary teacher with older students and a cart (no permanent classroom)…

My Grade Six Bullying Task Force

In light of the focus on bullying that has come as a result of Amanda Todd’s heart breaking story depicting the path that led her to put an end to the pain and feeling of helplessness she endured for so many years, our class devoted much time and discussion to this urgent topic.  I, like every educator or parent reading this, find myself faced with the issue of bullying on a regular basis which can feel extremely frustrating.  However, this time around, I decided to take the topic further.

As we read picture books, learned about real life stories, analyzed the roles of the bully, victim, and bystander, and thought about what creates the mentality of a bully and the victims, we came to the realization that the knowledge and understanding we need to effectively deal with this issue lies within us.  We looked at ourselves, our care givers, the media, and our lifestyle to find the answers.

Earlier in the week, the government announced that a task force would be created to study this on-going issue on a deeper level in order to come up with strategies and recommendations to support the need for action.  I would like to save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars by sharing what my Grade Six Bullying Task Force created within the span of five days.  Keeping in mind that I am referring to a group of 30 ten and eleven year-olds, the experience was quite simply enlightening.

In a nutshell (and using “big words”), the main ideas discussed included the following:

  • we have all experienced the roles of being the bully, the victim, and the bystander.  Maybe one role has been more dominant so far, but if we take a careful look, we’ve taken on each of these roles at some point in our lives.
  • our upbringing and experiences with our care givers have a significant impact on the roles we choose to take on. No one is born a bully or victim.  Both come to be as a result of the words, emotions, and actions we are exposed to as we begin to make sense of the world.
  • we have a choice about the roles we take on in life.  The power lies within us to choose whether we will be a bully, a victim, a bystander, or none of the above.  Kids need to learn how their thoughts create their reality.
  • education through self-awereness is the most powerful way to unravel our ideas, beliefs, and feelings with respect to how we treat others and would like to be treated.  This will not work if educators and care givers continue to give a “time-out” to those who bully and pat on the back with sympathy to those who are victims.
  • we need to educate the ones who bully (including their care givers!) through self-awareness, empower the ones who are victims by working on their inner belief system, and hold accountable those who decide not to make a positive decision to change by taking legal action that has an impact on their future.
Bullying will not go away by spending millions of dollars on research and resources.  There has to be a fundamental shift in the way we educate and empower people to understand that our ideas and actions originate from a belief system which must be changed at the core if we’re to move forward into a positive way of being.  If a class of ten and eleven year-old get this, then we owe it to them to make it happen.